Twinkly Dave – Mud splattered bicycle and pizza enthusiast Growing old disgracefully

March 25, 2015

Battle on the Beach

Filed under: bikes,lunacy - mine,Racing — dgpowell @ 8:33 pm

“If you want excitement, this is probably a bad way to get it” I find myself thinking, as I desperately try to stop the front end of the bike swerving away from under me across the compact sand. The wheel, coated in a rapidly deflating tyre, twitches and bucks as I try to slide backwards on the saddle while maintaining the 25mph the 20 strong group immediately behind me is thundering along at. Perched on the front of the pack I start to try and edge my way out to the side of the group to not cause a huge high speed pile up.

“Don’t dig in. Please don’t dig in” I scream out inside my head, as I start to feel the rim grounding out on the sand. I’m not quite out of the back of the select group that has broken away from the front of the race as we start to turn and head towards the forest and steering, which is pretty interesting on the sand at the best of times is downright confusing at this point.

Somehow I stay upright. Somehow I make it out of the back of the group without wiping out or taking half the field with me and roll, heart racing, to the side of the course.

From here on in my race was pretty much over. Plan A was thrashing it’s way round the course and off into the distance as I glance up while frantically rummaging round in my jersey pocket for my pump and spare tube. I had no idea what Plan B was. I’d not set off with one. I’d decided that, despite the appearance of a lot of Very Fast People, I was going to get in the top 10 again and that seemed like enough to be getting on with. I’d have to make one up as – after what seemed like a weirdly long time – the 2nd group off the beach flew past. Hours spent unwillingly practicing in the dark while out riding at night come good as I stuff a new tube into the tyre and get it inflated enough to get going again in barely an eternity. I’ve only lost a few minutes, but in that time pretty much the whole field has raced past. Plan B will have to involve starting at the back with an overly soft tyre.

I leap back on and sprint along the fireroad towards the first section of singletrack like a man possessed, surprising myself with just how much effort I seem to be putting in. Plan B forms itself as I catch the first of the backmarkers on beginning of the narrow trails that make up much of the “not beach” sections of the course: Let’s pretend I’ve just given everyone a head start. Let’s see how far back up the results I can get from Stone Dead Last in the 2.5 laps that remain.

Let’s fucking have it.

Queues have formed as people mess up through the sweeping trails. I do all I can to limit my losses, seeking out any chance to sneak through the lines of waiting riders and, whenever riding becomes possible again, floor it round as many riders as I can.

Part of the first lap is spent learning how the softer-than-I’d-like front tyre handles. It squirms about a bit under me, but the bike seems pretty much as it did when the race started: faster than I could ever really need. Every stomp on the pedals launches me past rider after rider. Every twitch on the bars fires me in whichever direction I need to go so quickly I can barely keep up. It’s brilliant. Racing it is brilliant. No-one is even bothering to try and keep up, they just watch as I hurtle off up the course in a completely different race to theirs. I am re-enthused by each overtake. Plan B is awesome. Hey you, in front, BOOM, see you later. Repeat.
I’ve worked my way up to and through a group of about seven riders as we hit the beach for the second time. Memories of last year, working together with other riders pop into my head, through and off to keep the pace high. Not this year. Sorry guys, I’ve business further up the race. I hunker down on the drops, drop the chain a couple of gears, pick a bike shaped dot way off in the distance and utterly fucking hammer it towards it. No holding back for the next lap, just get the heart rate up into the 190s and hold it there. Each time the bike shaped dot it reached, pick another and chase it down.

I wish the beach would never end. I could do this all day. Then I get back into the singletrack, the flowing, rolling, superb singletrack. I wish it would never end. I’m barely touching the ground. Skimming across whatever surface the course happens to be at any point with an almost zen like control.

As I continue to climb back up though the race I get to watch everyone’s battles from a strangely remote position. Riders hound each other through the twisting, treelined track. I see it as I catch them, announce my passing and occasionally get a final glance at it as it disappears behind me. I don’t know if they’re executing their Plan A, or doing all they can to fight out a Plan B like me, but it makes for great viewing. Microcosms briefly captured before I move on.

I hit the beach for the final time with one aim. I’m further up the field now. Shaven legs (on the blokes, ahem) are becoming more prevalent. The personal battles between the riders I’m catching and passing are getting more serious. A few are glancing at me and taking me on as I sweep round them. Not giving in as easily. And, I’ll be honest, I’m starting to feel the last hour of flat out riding. I want to try my legs out one last time against a group.


Brilliant pic from Mark Whale’s Flickr account

Down onto the drops again, fight over the loose sand and onto the faster hardpacked stuff out by the tideline, I spy 5 riders a few hundred feet in front, riding closely together. Head down. I Fight my way up to them. It takes another eternity to get up to the back of them. They’re working well together. Through and off and suddenly aware of my arrival. I drop another gear, pull out to the side of the group and throw down as much power as I can muster to accelerate round them and off in front. I hear the clicks of chains hurriedly skipping over rear cassettes as they respond. Deep breath. Not that I wasn’t silently screaming with every inhalation already, but this will require all I can do. I pick up my leg speed as much as I can. And hold it there. Until even my face is sore from grimacing.

A glance under my arm shows a widening gap. Job done.

I pick up more places through the forest and cross the finish line several hundred places higher than I was after the “head start”. Plan A is dead, Plan B got me to the finish. Long live Plan B. 🙂

Thanks to modern technology, you can now live the joy of getting a puncture in the middle of a fast moving group with me here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yGTVUAI5s4&feature=youtu.be (it’s about 9min 20secs in)

Here’s the Strava thingy-ma-jig for all you lovers of analysis

And the Strava playback of the race (best viewed while listening to the ‘chase’ music from Benny Hill)

And, of course, here’s the results

Thanks to everyone involved in making the race happen. It’s a brilliant event. Utterly. Keep doing it. 🙂

September 12, 2014

Hey! Welcome back! Here, have a punch in the leg…

Filed under: bikes,Racing — dgpowell @ 2:11 pm

Cross season is back!

rodwell

Having missed racing in the winter of 2013 as I dragged myself back into some semblance of fitness I’ve been keen this time round to make the most of it. Cyclocross racing is totally different to anything I ‘normally’ do – the 1hr (max!) races are flat out, unlike the endurance stuff I like to entertain myself with over the summer. There’s a whole set of specific skills needed to do well, most of which I completely lack…but that’s part of the attraction, different bike, different style of course (usually a bit simpler than mtb courese) and different technique. They say a change is as good as a rest, which makes ‘cross the hardest damn rest you could ever have! 🙂

After resurrecting the old Ragley Rodwell with what turned out to be a bizarre mixture of expensive left over parts from the garage and some “whatever was on offer on the internet” bits and bobs to fill in the gaps, I took myself out for a couple of rides to get reacquainted with thrashing about off road on what feels like a road bike with slightly wider tyres (unsurprisingly).

I was rubbish.

It was ace.

And with those two rather shocking looking (to the outside world, I was convinced I was doing well all the time I wasn’t lying at the side of the trail, picking myself up after yet another tumble) rides being the sum total of my preparation I leapt into the North West Cyclocross League’s first race of the season, conveniently located a short ride from my front door.

Watching the categories before mine fight their way round their races hinted at what was to come – mouth wide open faces pulling in as much air as possible as bikes were flung round the twisty course as quickly as possible. It looked flat out. The view from the outside of the course tape, however, was nothing in comparison to being in the thick of it…

I lined up near the back of the pack, not wanting to cause a rolling roadblock if I messed up the start and, within seconds of the start, found myself fighting for breath, wrestling the bike left and right as I started to pass those in front of me who’d not got away well, whenever the course and my skill allowed it.
From there on, the hour passed in a blur of exploding out of corners, chasing everyone in front and (embarrassingly) picking myself up from wherever I’d managed to crash. The intensity and elbow to elbow style of the racing was totally unfamiliar for all of about 2 laps, then, as the soreness from wiping out in corners begin to sing in my legs, as the ache at the bottom of my lungs began to take over, everything began to click into place again.
I’d missed this.

HTCC (sens)_0173
Pic by the ever present & ever cheerful SportSunday – cheers guys 🙂

The sharp end of the field were long gone (and then, halfway through, back as the top couple of lads lapped me -d’oh!), but it didn’t matter. I was racing up the learning curve and utterly loving chasing down everyone in front. The race finished with me just in the top 20. Not good enough, which was perfect. I left already plotting the next race. How I would be faster. More skillful. Less crash-y (well, possibly).

As the weather deteriorates the races will change. These early fast races will turn into mud based slogs through the winter darkness, requiring even more skill and effort. I’m up for it. Oh yes. 🙂

March 19, 2014

Battle on the Beach

Filed under: bikes,Racing — dgpowell @ 9:49 pm

It’s a close ratio cassette, just shift up one more cog and spin up to the same cadence you’re at now. Don’t look across to your left. There’s nothing there for you. That isn’t the group you want to be in. Head down. It’ll hurt less if you’ve got your head down. Work your way forward. Stay to the right, out of the wind.

Head down now. Head down.

Go.

There may be a snarl on my face. Or a grimace. I’m not entirely sure what it would be classed as. It’s not been there since summer last year, but it’s sure as hell back now, as I try to force my head down further towards my stem. Legs scream, but respond and turn over the bigger gear. I don’t want a string of riders hanging on my rear wheel so I’m throwing everything I can muster into churning the bike forward across the packed down sand. Bursting free off the front of the group towards the leaders and into a barren no mans land between echelons.

There’s no point looking up to see how it’s going, or twisting my head back to see if I’ve opened a gap behind me. I’ve watched riders try to work their way up to a breakaway in the pro peloton many times on the TV. Enough to know that once you’ve launched, your commitment is total, it doesn’t waver until you either reach the back of the front runners, or get swallowed back up and spat out by those who you’ve attempted to leave behind.
Every time I’ve seen it happen I’ve sensed that it hurt but I’m learning, quickly, that into a headwind it’s a whole new level of suffering. Double bass drum heartbeats start to smash inside my head. Should be a warning that I’m killing myself on the first lap and that it may come back to haunt me later. Should be. Isn’t. Shift up one more cog. Get that cadence back up. This will work.

Almost totally consumed by an adrenaline fuelled fire, my empty beachfront world becomes filled with the sound of other drivechains. I allow myself the decadence of a glance up. There they are! I’ve bridged the gap! Only a metre or so to the back of the group. One final all out push and I can shelter from the wind. Thank fuck. Let’s latch on…and then the race can start…

Off the beach and into the woods sees the race change from a group effort to an every man for himself thrash through the singletrack. Elbow to elbow when it’s wide enough, tyre scuffing tyre when it’s not. Who’ll blink and brake first round every bend. The speed stays distantly over ‘comfortable’. It become clear that my heart rate will have to stay up where it is for the rest of the event. Fine. This twisting, swooping, free flowing blast through the trees is exciting enough to make it worthwhile.

Photosports-Wales: Battle of the Beach &emdash;

We weave our way back towards the end of the first lap. Places are gained and lost, but never easily. The front runners begin to ease away in that effortless looking way they often do. I could offer up excuses about ‘the luxury of them being pro meaning that was always going to happen’, but I don’t. I offer up everything I have in response instead.
The road back to fitness is long and I’m nowhere near there yet, but I’ve reached the point where I’m ready to burn up every muscle fibre to turn every pedal stroke into a race in itself.

More places are swapped as the second lap tears by. I am definitely heading in the right direction. Comfortable with the course and slowly reducing the numbers ahead of me I hit the packed down sand for the third and final time with 3 accomplices.

battle on the beach-9315

We quickly fall into a through and off rhythm, each taking his turn in the wind, working together in an alliance as uneasy as you would expect on the final lap of a race. How many of those grimaces are feigned? How long before the group implodes and someone launches an

Attack.

A cyclocross rider streaks free. Far forward over his bars he launches away from us, sand firing off his rear tyre into the air like shrapnel from some hitherto unexploded bomb washed up on the sand.

Shit. Go with it. Go. Go!

I hurl myself over the bars and set about making my legs scream in protest all over again. There’s no ‘head down’ measured efficiency here. It’s an ugly, lurching thrash at the pedals. Every sinew straining. Nothing left. All out.

After an eternity of ever increasing pain the rider ahead looks round and realises I’ve got onto his rear wheel. I know what he’s going to (try to) say before anything is uttered. We’ve gapped the other two. We can’t slow down. If they get back up to us we will have thrown away a massive amount of energy for nothing. This pain. This has to continue until we run out of beach. This move has to work.

We reach the end of the straight and clamber up the comedy Slope of Doom together, with a clear space between us and the chasing two. The pace needs to stay flat out to keep that lead, but there’s no longer to be any teamwork. Hammer and tongs through the singletrack we fly. I slip back getting through traffic but refuse to give up. Powering back up to his back wheel and pestering him through the corners. I’m still here. I don’t die. Drop me and I’ll just bounce back again. Another bodged overtake of some riders we’re lapping once again sees me on the wrong end of a gap. Once again I close that gap down. My lungs are probably on fire. My legs probably screaming lumps of molten lead. I don’t care.

We re-enter the start/finish arena for the final time wheel to wheel. Sprinting. Dying. Not backing off.

IMG_1498

I have a raft of excuses for why I crossed the line half a bike length on the wrong side of him. ‘Cross bikes being faster than mtbs over flat grass fields, closing all those little gaps I let open taking the edge off my ‘sprint’. I could write a book of them, but non of them matter. Non of them really excuse it. I lost out in the sprint. But fuck me it was good to be involved in. The whole race was. A chance to lay it all out on the line on a truly unique and brilliant course. Taken. Can’t wait to do it all again.

Results
Strava

January 22, 2014

What will be, will be

Filed under: bikes,lunacy - mine,Racing — dgpowell @ 2:11 pm


Ace pic by Paul from http://www.paulmassonphotography.co.uk/

It’s funny, I know people seem to say “ooo it’s like no time has passed at all since [insert whatever here]”, “I can’t believe it’s been a year since [more whatevers here]”, but driving up the muddy fireroad towards where the rest of the JMC lot had set up camp, I genuinely couldn’t believe that a whole year had passed since I last packed up the car and drove home with fewer brake pads and sorer legs that I had arrived with.
A lot may have happened (and, equally, nothing at all happened for a while!), but it was almost reassuring to see the trails shooting off in all the right directions, from all the right places once again, as the Zafira lolloped and lurched it’s way over the potholes.
Crashing, wondering if I’d be able to race again, the forest seemed happy to let me put it away as “the past” and start again. Course tape and cones marking the route I already knew it would take seemed to welcome me back as if nothing had happened in the months between: the hills were still there, I was here, nothing else mattered.

The gazebo was set up as it always is; gas fire in the corner to keep the helpers (and non-racing racers) warm and comfy, tables covered in weird foods and drinks neatly arranged, enough spare bike parts to run a bike shop stuffed wherever a space appeared, with everything kept in it’s place by a thick dose of sarcasm. Home sweet home, pretty much.

Pits organised, a retreat to the hotel (and the pub, ahem), for some pre-race face stuffing and a semi-early night meant the early start on race day wasn’t too much of a shock to the system. Even if it had been, I found myself happy to be suffering it again. The bleary eyed attempts at getting chammy cream and winter embrocation the right way round, the “where’s all the stuff I neatly laid out and put somewhere safe, aaaarg, oh wait there it is, right where I left it” panic. I’d forgotten just how integral a part of a race it is. For me anyway, Rich Rothwell didn’t seem to be suffering from it, in fact if there’d bee a hammock available I got the impression he’d be asleep in it!

And the race itself? Every rock seemed happy to see me again. Almost as much as I was to see them. I threw in a few decent paced laps, grinning from ear to ear for a few hours as the joy of racing again overflowed. Corners were nearly overshot. People I wasn’t really racing against were raced against simply because they were there. Dougie Vipond asked me (on camera) if I was planning on going for the win due to me not letting the front runners get much of a gap…I was slouched against my bike outside the pits, clutching a mug of tea of being offered a slice of cake at the time so couldn’t really answer “yes” with any conviction, but that wasn’t really why I was there. I was there to race in it’s simplest sense. No long-term training had brought me to the start line in peak fitness, nothing like that, just the ownership of a bike and a desire to hammer it for a long time. I was there to see if I still wanted to immerse myself in the whole “scene”. If I did, this was a beginning, if I didn’t, this was a fitting swansong.

Turns out I did.

I may have allowed myself plenty of time in the pits to “relax”, soak up the atmosphere and generally not run myself into the ground, but I still got caught up in the whole experience. Still raced to not be last and, as I watched Jase, Phil, Rich, Budge and Andy smash the front end of the race apart, knew that I needed to get back ‘up there’ soon.

Bring on the future, I’ll be ready for it 🙂

January 9, 2014

The way out is through

Filed under: bikes,lunacy - mine — dgpowell @ 8:50 pm

Time ticks on and tentatively I’ve limped a few miles as the weather’s fallen apart and winter has taken a hold. Training? No. Preparing? No. Enjoying? Yes.

No aims up to now, nip out for a bit when the opportunity arises, ride with friends, tick of a few “I’m on my way, don’t forget about me just yet” milestones. Well, no aims but one: don’t miss the ‘puffer.

No training for it means I won’t be tickling the podium spots, but there’s no way I’d miss it while I still have the ability to ride.
Instead of it being a target in itself it’s become a start. A rebirth. No, not as a singlespeeder (nuts to that, I’m just riding singlespeed to save wear on drivechains while riding a race I’m not hoping to win), before you ask. Just a phoenix like rise from the ashes for next summer and for the World Championships in Scotland next October. Enjoy this with no pressure of trying to get “up there” then build, train, get back into the fight.

See you soon world. 🙂

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